Apple disables Walkie-Talkie app after warning over eavesdropping

Natasha Bernal
Apple has disabled its walkie talkie app after researchers discovered that it could be used to eavesdrop on people - Christopher Pledger

Apple has disabled the Walkie-Talkie app on its Watches after researchers warned that it could be used to eavesdrop on conversations through microphones. 

The Walkie-Talkie app, which comes pre-installed on Apple Watches, allows people to communicate with each other by pressing a button on their screens in a similar way to a traditional walkie talkie. 

The technology giant said there is no evidence of the vulnerability affecting its users.

A spokesperson for Apple said: "We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible."

Privacy experts said the bug, which was brought to light after privacy testing, demonstrates the heightened privacy risk in smart devices.

Professor Alan Woodward, a privacy expert at the University of Surrey, said:  "Every time you say something is smart, you're saying it's hackable. At least with a phone it’s not physically attached to you, but you have to be very careful.

"We are getting to the stage where we are going to need little devices to put over the microphones to physically block them."

Dr Bernie Hogan, data scientist at Oxford Internet Institute, said it is "problematic" that smartphones and wearables do not provide users with the same amount of data that laptops do to find out whether their privacy has been breached.

"Apple seems to be on the ball and forthcoming about this. Will there be some collateral damage? I don't know. Personally I think that sensitive conversations ought to be taking place."

Apple was embroiled in further privacy concerns this week after security researcher Jonathan Leitschuh found  a serious vulnerability in video conference service Zoom on Macs that allowed any website to open a conference call and turn on computers' webcams. 

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: "It's good that Apple has acted swiftly to deal with a potential security and privacy threat, but this is not the first problem the company has had with video calling apps this year, so it would be understandable if some customers are concerned.

"Apple should continue to be upfront and transparent about these issues so customers are easily able to to keep their devices patched, up to date and secure."